Picked To Die (An Orchard Mystery)

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9781410478290: Picked To Die (An Orchard Mystery)
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The new Orchard Mystery--from the "New York Times "bestselling author of "Golden Malicious "and "Scandal in Skibbereen"
A TREE IS KNOWN BY ITS FRUIT
It's harvest time in Granford, Massachusetts, and orchard owner Meg Corey and her fiance, Seth, are both racing to beat the New England winter. Meg is bringing in her apple crop with a team of workers, while Seth is working to restore an old building in the center of town. But when his project is set back due to the unexpected discovery of a skeleton under the building--and even worse, a young man related to one of Meg's former apple pickers is found dead behind the local feed store--the couple's carefully laid plans are quickly spoiled...
Meg can't help but wonder: are they just unlucky, or is there something rotten in Granford? If so, she knows she's got to seek out the bad apple before it ruins the whole bunch...
Includes Delicious Recipes

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About the Author:

Sheila Connolly is the "New York Times "bestselling, Anthony and Agatha award-nominated author of the Orchard Mysteries, the Museum Mysteries, and the County Cork Mysteries. She has taught art history, structured and marketed municipal bonds for major cities, worked as a staff member on two statewide political campaigns, and served as a fundraiser for several nonprofit organizations. She also managed her own consulting company, providing genealogical research services. In addition to genealogy, Sheila loves restoring old houses, visiting cemeteries, and traveling. Now a full-time writer, she thinks writing mysteries is a lot more fun than any of her previous occupations. She is married and has one daughter and three cats.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

1

“This whole town has gone crazy,” Seth Chapin said as he dropped heavily into a chair across the kitchen table from Meg Corey.

Meg looked at her fiancé in confusion. “Fiancé”: such an odd, somehow old-fashioned word. She kept forgetting that they were now officially “engaged” in the eyes of the world. Well, the small world of Granford, Massachusetts, at least—it wasn’t like she was announcing it in the Boston Globe. She didn’t feel like a fiancée, which she’d always thought was an equally silly word. They hadn’t gotten any closer to setting a date. They hadn’t discussed where or when or how. They hadn’t even worked out where they’d live, though currently Seth was spending most of his time at her house, which made sense, since his office and storage space were in her barn. On the other hand, Meg also had her housemate to consider—Briona Stewart, who was also Meg’s orchard manager, and indispensable to keeping the apple orchard running. Given how little Meg could afford to pay, the position came with a free room, and she couldn’t just toss Bree out into the local student-driven housing scene. There were many things Meg and Seth needed to talk about, maybe when they were less busy and exhausted—she with the apple harvest, Seth with his fast-growing renovation business. Not the best time to make happy plans.

“What are you talking about?” Meg asked now. “Did I miss something? What’s going crazy?”

“Everyone in town wants to tear things down and put things up, all at once.” Seth sighed. “You have anything cold to drink?”

“Of course. Water, iced tea, even some sports drink, if you want electrolytes.” After a recent brush with heat exhaustion, Meg had been scrupulous about keeping plenty of liquids on hand. Since it was harvest season, she was also always reminding her pickers up in the orchard to stay hydrated, too.

Seth hauled himself up and got a bottle of water from the refrigerator. He sat and downed half the bottle. “That’s better. So, basically, I think everybody in town looked up, noticed it was September, and said, ‘Hey, we’d better get something done before winter.’ Of course, we could argue about whether there’ll even be a winter this year, what with the weird weather we’ve had. Or maybe there’ll be a six-month winter.”

Meg sipped her own drink. “Back up—who’s ‘everybody’?”

“Well, first there’s the library. Did you hear about the new one?”

Meg racked her brain and came up blank. She hadn’t had time to read the local paper since . . . June? And it was only a weekly. She’d been so busy for months, first with fighting the drought, which had meant a lot of hand-watering of her eighteen acres of apple trees; now with managing the harvest, which had begun in August and would run through November, depending on when the apples decided to ripen, which was kind of unpredictable. But a new library was a major step for Granford, Massachusetts, and she felt like she should have known. Besides, Seth, a town selectman, usually kept her up-to-date. “Uh, no?”

“And you a concerned citizen!” Seth joked. “Okay, last year one of the old families in town donated a part of their property to the town to use to build a new library. It’s out near the high school, on Route 202. Plenty of space for parking, and it’s big enough to build what they want, assuming they can figure out how to pay for it. They’ve already got some state grants, and the fund-raising is going well.” He stopped to drink some more water. “The building site is set back pretty far from the road, so you might not have noticed it if you drove past it. But there was a formal ground-breaking a few months ago.”

“Sorry I missed it. Should I make a contribution? But building a new library doesn’t sound at all crazy to me.”

“I’m not finished,” Seth said. “Then there’s the Historical Society.”

“What are they doing?” Meg asked. Now, the Historical Society was someplace she was involved with. They owned a nice but too-small one-story building that faced the village green, just down the hill from the church. When she’d first visited almost two years ago now, as a newcomer to Granford, it had been an unheated space filled with a hodgepodge of unrelated collections. She wasn’t surprised that the director, Gail Selden, had bigger plans. Gail had also become a friend, and had helped Meg more than once to find information about her own eighteenth-century home. “Don’t tell me they’re moving!”

“No, not that,” Seth replied. “They own that building outright, but as you’ve probably noticed, it needs work. And it’s not really big enough to serve the public the way they’d like.”

That was true. Gail had worked wonders cleaning it up and creating exhibits that made sense, but it was still small and unheated.

Seth went on, “The Society has collections stashed all over town, wherever they could find storage space, and Gail really wants to get them all under one roof. But still the same old roof.”

“So what are they planning?”

“Basically, they had two choices: build up or build down. The Historical Society board didn’t want to change the profile of the building by adding another story, even a partial one, so they’ve decided to dig out under the building.”

“Wow—that sounds ambitious. Is it even possible?” Meg got up to help herself to another bottle of water, laying an affectionate hand on Seth’s shoulder as she passed. She was still getting used to having him around more or less full-time, but with their busy schedules, it was nice when they saw each other at all. “Want another?”

“Sure.” He laid his hand over hers, briefly. “They have an architect who says it’s possible, if it’s done carefully, of course. At least it’s not too big a building. They’d have to put supports under the existing building, then excavate, then pour a foundation and finish the space so it can be used for document and collections storage, which means special considerations for moisture and ventilation. Oh, and Gail really wants a bathroom in the building for staff and volunteers.”

Meg laughed. “I can certainly understand that!” While her own colonial house had four bedrooms, it had only one bath, which really wasn’t enough with three people living in the house—especially when they all needed showers at the same time after a working day. She had to keep reminding herself that when the house had been built by one of her Warren family ancestors, there had been no indoor plumbing beyond the well in the basement, which had provided water for the kitchen above by way of an old hand pump. But standards for personal hygiene had been different then. “So what’s the time frame there?”

“Yesterday,” Seth said. “Seriously, they want to get it roughed out before the ground freezes, so it’s a pretty ambitious schedule. But they more or less have the money in hand, so they don’t want to wait.”

“They do?” Having money in hand was an unusual situation for most historical societies.

“Yeah. The Society also owns the house across the street, which they rent out for income, and Gail told me that when they talked to a financial advisor he told them that they could take out a mortgage on the rental house, and voilà! They’d have the cash for the renovations. The rent gives them enough income to cover the mortgage payments. Once they figured out how much money they had to work with, then they started thinking about building plans.”

“I’m impressed. So, that’s the library and the Historical Society—are you finished yet?”

“Not quite. There’s also a school building that needs some serious work, and nobody can decide whether to try to fix it—with state money—or to tear it down and start over. So we put together a committee to study it, but there’s a deadline coming up shortly.”

I really am out of the loop, Meg thought. Of course, not having any children, she hadn’t paid much attention to school-related issues, but still. “Is that all?”

“Almost. This is off the record, but the town is also thinking about selling the town hall building.”

“What? I like that building!” Meg protested.

“It’s a lovely structure, but a lousy municipal building. It was built as a private summer home at the height of the Victorian era. The wiring isn’t up to code, so it’s hard to use computers and printers and the like.”

“Where would the town administration go? Is there some other building that would work? Or do they want to build, too?”

Seth shook his head. “Not clear. They might be able to move into the old library when the new one opens.”

“This really is a game of musical chairs, isn’t it?” Meg said. “Where do you stand on all of these? I mean, you’re a selectman, so in a sense, you are the town, or part of it.” Meg knew there were only three members on the select board, plus a town manager. Who voted to approve projects like these?

Seth leaned back in his chair and stretched. “Caught right in the middle. The library and the Historical Society have their own funding, so they don’t need our approval, apart from permitting and inspections and such. The school project does, and obviously selling town hall would. Theoretically, I’m in favor of all and any of these, as long as the financial numbers make sense and they meet all construction requirements—which could be challenging, at least for the Historical Society.”

“Are you going to be personally involved?” Meg asked. When she’d first met Seth, he’d been managing his family’s plumbing business, but his real love was building restoration and renovation. Although plumbing was a good fallback when no one could afford historically accurate renovations to their older homes.

“If I had my choice, I’d help out with the Historical Society project. It’s an interesting challenge, and I’d like to be sure they retain the historic character of the building. As you know as well as I do, when you start jerking around an old building, you always end up finding other things you need to fix, like rotting sills or termite damage. And if they’re putting in an HVAC system—which, by the way, would be a first in that building—there are issues of windows and insulation and making the building more airtight while still keeping it authentic, at least in appearance.”

“And you don’t have to vote on that project, so there’s no conflict,” Meg mused, almost to herself.

“Exactly. The library doesn’t need me, and the school project probably wouldn’t either. The town hall question is anybody’s guess. So that leaves the Historical Society. By the way, I pointed Gail toward an architect who specializes in this kind of project, so they’ve already got plans in hand.”

“Can it be done before winter?”

“It’s a tight schedule, but it could work, if everything goes well.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“We seal it up as best we can and hope for a mild winter. At least the collections will be stored off-site.”

“Speaking of the collections, I know she’s got more documents about this house that I’d love to see, but I haven’t had the time. Maybe when the harvest is over.” Winter, Meg knew from last year—her first as an apple grower—was the slowest time for the orchard. She’d have some long days to fill.

“How’s the harvest going?”

Meg shrugged. “I don’t have a lot to compare it to other than last year, but Bree says we’re doing okay. We were lucky that the drought broke when it did. Another couple of weeks and we’d have lost a lot of apples.” Along with most of my very thin profit margin.

“Everything working out with the pickers?”

“So far. Most of the regulars are back, bless them, although we lost one to a competitor over in Belchertown who could offer a little more money, and there are fewer and fewer people who want to do this kind of manual labor.”

Meg was lucky that although she was new to running an orchard, the orchard itself was well established, and in recent years had been overseen by the local state university. Which was also how she’d come to employee Bree, a recent graduate of the university who’d studied orchard management. The fact that Bree was Jamaican-born also helped her in managing the mainly Jamaican pickers who had been working the orchards in the Connecticut River Valley for generations—at least it helped once they got used to the idea of working for a woman, and a young one at that, and one who’d spent most of her life actually living in Massachusetts rather than Jamaica. But Bree had earned their respect and things were going smoothly; the loss of that one picker was in no way her fault. “That’s why Bree and I are both up there most days, just to fill in. It’s hard to know in advance from week to week what’s going to be ripe, and sometimes we get swamped. Plus, it’s demanding work. Thank goodness the new trees we planted in the spring won’t be bearing for a couple more years. Maybe by then I’ll have figured out how this all works.”

“Can you take a short break tomorrow? I’m going to talk to Gail about the excavation process in the morning, if you want to tag along.”

“I’d love to see Gail, and this project sounds really interesting. I don’t think we’ve got a lot on the schedule for tomorrow, so I can probably sneak away. But I’ll have to check with Bree.”

“You talking about me?” Bree came in through the back door.

“May I take an hour or two off tomorrow morning, please, ma’am?” Meg said, smiling. “The Historical Society is planning to add a basement under their building, and I’m curious to see how they’re going to do it.”

Bree rummaged in the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. “I guess. We’re just about caught up with the Cortlands and the Empires, but the Galas aren’t ready yet and we’re waiting on the Baldwins. Did you order the new crates?”

“Oh, shoot, I forgot.” The old wooden crates that Meg had inherited when she moved into the house were wearing out fast, and they’d been replacing them as needed with more modern plastic ones. Not nearly as pretty, but much more practical. “I’ll do that in the morning.”

“Then you have my blessing for the morning—after you place that order,” Bree said in a mock-serious tone. “What’s happening with dinner?”

“Not a clue,” Meg replied. “Seth, you have any ideas?”

“There’s a new pizza place in the shopping center on 202. Want to try that?”

“How did I ever miss seeing that? Let’s go!”

2

The pizza last night had been good, and Meg sent up a silent cheer that Granford had one more place that served food. The only “real” restaurant in town, Gran’s, was more upscale, though far from fancy. Meg loved eating there, especially since she’d had a hand in creating the place, and even more so because she now counted the owners, Nicky and Brian Czarnecki, as friends, but she wasn’t always in the mood for a sit-down meal. A pizza place, and one only a mile or two from her house, was a great quick-and-dirty alternative.

When she awoke the next morning, Meg checked the clock, then rolled over and nudged Seth. “Hey, what time are you meeting Gail?”

He answered without opening his eyes. “As soon as she gets the kids off to school. What time is it?”

“Seven.”

Seth opened his eyes, then sat up quickly. “I’ve got to get some paperwork together before...

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9780425257111: Picked to Die (An Orchard Mystery)

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ISBN 10:  0425257118 ISBN 13:  9780425257111
Publisher: Berkley, 2014
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